I’ve never been a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, but then again, I have never really hated them, either. I don’t have the time or energy to hate teams – hate is a young fan’s game, and I don’t need that sort of stress any more! – but I certainly have the time to be indifferent, so for many years, the Leafs simply didn’t exist in my world.
Until now. Because after the Leafs’ latest antics against the Buffalo Sabres, it has become crystal clear: the Toronto Maple Leafs are the most embarrassing team in the NHL.
Let’s start with something that has always bothered me, not enough to really stir strong emotions, but it’s worth bringing up now: their name. The world of professional hockey is a man’s world, filled with bone-crushing hits, displays of amazing physical skill, and intense competition. The NHL is filled with many teams whose names reflect the intensity and ferocity of the sport of hockey: the Sharks. The Sabres. The Panthers. The Coyotes. The Predators. The Flames. The Kings. The Wild. The Maple Leafs.
What? Talk about a name that symbolizes the exact opposite of what hockey is all about. Even the weakest, animal-based name in the NHL – the Pittsburgh Penguins – conveys more power and ferocity than the Leafs. Hell, even the Maple Trees would have been a better name, since trees are at least sturdy. Leafs rip. They tear. They fall to the ground and get trampled on by every animate object in the world. Toronto has chosen a symbol, not of strength, but of absolute powerlessness and submission. That alone should embarrass Toronto fans.*
*Obviously, my attempt to be tongue-in-cheek was not appreciated. At no point am I dissing an entire nation here; it’s only hockey we’re discussing.
Clearly, though, that is not enough reason to dislike a team. Unless, of course, the players on the team start taking the name to heart and begin acting fragile and leaf-like . . . as was the case with Toronto’s “captain,” Dion Phaneuf Saturday night:
Way to take the hit like a man, Phaneuf! But you have no problem cross-checking people from behind, now do you? If you have read any of my work, you know that I am not the biggest John Scott fan in the world, and while I don’t want hockey to ban fighting I think the staged-fights and brawls need to go. Having said that, Scott was about to administer a legal hit. Last I checked, hockey is a hard-hitting affair, and if you take a dive to avoid a check, Phaneuf, you ought to hang up your skates and grab a pair of baseball cleats, because you, my friend, are in the wrong damn sport.
As if Princess Phaneuf’s cowardice isn’t enough, I really enjoyed watching Colton Orr come diving into the fray that ensued once Phaneuf and Cody McCormick got into it. What – Phaneuf cannot handle himself in a fight? It’s not like the captain was sucker-punched; he and McCormick seemed to both be willing to give it a go, so why is Orr coming into and trying to jump McCormick from behind? It was a gutless move by Orr, and dangerous, since his skates could have seriously injured an unsuspecting player. It would be one thing if someone had jumped a Leafs player who was caught off-guard, but that clearly wasn’t the case, and Orr provided us with just another example of how cheap this team really is.
You know, it was one thing to watch Phil Kessel use his stick as a weapon against John Scott in the preseason. I would have been afraid of Scott, too, but obviously Kessel went too far with his samurai impression, especially when he was jabbing at Scott when the big man was engaged with other Leafs players. Still, that was just an example of one player acting yellow, so I kind of let it go. After Saturday night’s display of cheap hits and gutless behavior, though, I cannot let it go, because it is clearly not just one player acting like a punk anymore. Leafs fans, you wasted your time chanting “Sabres suck” during the scrum. It is true – the Buffalo Sabres do kind of suck – but at least we fans admit it, and besides, it’s pretty understandable why a team in the middle of a rebuild is one of the worst in the NHL. What excuses do the Leafs have, for all of the stick-whacking, cross-checking, dive-taking, and attacking players from behind they have been doing this season? Before you start calling out other teams, Toronto fans, you ought to take a look at the embarrassment your own team has become.
Just think – I didn’t even remember Nazem Kadri’s cheap hit on Minnesota goaltender Niklas Backstrom until it was brought up below!!!